Shark Tank is appointment TV for me. It is one of my favorite shows and being a Shark Tank fan has magically become a way of life for me. As the 22 episode, fourth season of Shark Tank looms, I found myself thinking about what is good and bad about the show. I highlighted 6 reasons the Shark Tank is BAD for the American psyche in another post. Today I want to talk about the 6 reasons Shark Tank is GOOD for the American Psyche.
Our country has been going through some tough times. With the bank crisis of a few years ago, the current unfriendly climate toward business, rampant unemployment, and the exodus of manufacturing and R&D jobs to foreign soil, many Americans have lost some hope for the future. One thing we have not lost is the idea “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have not lost the American Dream- the idea that anyone, through their own efforts, can pull themselves up and make their lives better. When the Founding Fathers crafted the Declaration of Independence, their notion of “Happiness” was meant in an economic sense. They believed everyone should have the right to pursue a better economic reality for themselves by creating businesses, communities, and industries.
Shark Tank fuels the idea of the American Dream. Every Friday, the 5 Sharks embody the fulfillment of that dream and the four would-be-entrepreneurs embody the pursuit. Even if the show is an over simplified view of the entrepreneurial process, it still places it squarely into the growing viewership's consciousness. There are 6 reasons the Shark Tank is good for the American small business person's psyche; here they are.
1. The Shark Tank is an hour-long expression of hope. It is an affirmation that the American Dream is alive and well. Nearly 40,000 applications flooded the producers' in boxes in anticipation of Shark Tank Season 4. Whether entrepreneurs went to one of the live auditions held around the country, sent in a video, or just completed the application to audition, the sheer volume of applicants shows that there are many small businesses striving to carve out their share of the Dream. This tells me that not only is the American Dream alive and well, but it is growing. A vehicle to keep the Dream alive, even if it is just a perfunctory glimpse through the lens of a reality TV show, is something to be applauded.
2. The Sharks themselves are prime and varied examples of the Dream realized. Daymond John started out essentially as a “garage business” selling tee shirts. Barbara Corcoran made it in the cut throat New York real estate market by differentiating herself from other Realtors through savvy self promotion. Mark Cuban built (and sold for big bucks) high-tech businesses in a decade where innovations on the internet and fortunes were made. Robert Herjavec used his knowledge of computer security to create a vibrant business. Kevin O'Leary built and sold educational software and makes a living as an investor- he's a deal maker. Lori Greiner doggedly pursued the development of a product she believed in, brought it to market and sold it. These mini Shark Tank “bios” over simplify the efforts and circumstances involved, but the essence of each Shark's success is an example that a good idea and some hard work can bring riches beyond comprehension. I would certainly rather have the youth of our nation looking at the work ethic demonstrated by the individual Shark Tank sharks as an example of how to live their lives than to many of the NBA players Mr. Cuban employs.
3. The Shark Tank has spawned or brought to the forefront many new avenues for supporting fledgling entrepreneurs. Shark Tank contestant Gary Gagnon of ReKixx Sneakers showed how leveraging an appearance on Shark Tank with crowdfunding can be a viable course for developing a business. His Kickstarter campaign was both innovative AND successful. Jared Joyce brought Edison Nation into the national entrepreneurial consciousness. All over the country, mock “shark tank” events are providing money, advice, and encouragement to new entrepreneurs. Even the Sharks themselves are partnering with entrepreneurial incubators to one degree or another. Daymond John is the most visible in this aspect with his partnerships with Babson College, Edison Nation, and his willingness to chat with students (he did a Google + Hangout with high school students last spring). The show has also created “copycats” on other networks. Any vehicle that drives further education about entrepreneurship has to be viewed as a good thing and the Shark Tank has given attention to many of these other methods for pursuing the Dream.
4. Shark Tank shows the American Public that entrepreneurs are not super human creatures. They are “regular folks,” just like the rest of us. Travis from Chord Buddy was a down home, friendly guy. He's someone who most Shark Tank entrepreneurs would like to sit down and have a beer with. Aside from the fact that he made an innovative learning tool to teach guitar, he's a guy you'd see at a Little League field or a dance recital with his kids. He's certainly not the stereotypical image of an entrepreneurial business man. Shelly Ehler and her ShowNo towels is another prime example. She's someone you'd expect to find at a PTA meeting in your community- a loving, caring, community oriented parent who just so happened to start a business and “win” on Shark Tank. There are countless other fantastic examples of entrepreneurs who appear on the show that provide good examples that you don't have to be a “shark” to have a solid business. Anyone can be an entrepreneur with the right attitude (and the right idea/product).
5. Shark Tank actually helps individual entrepreneurs. While only 30% or so of the deals that get funded on Shark Tank actually “get done,” the businesses that do get funded and come to fruition help the businesses involved. I saw firsthand when I visited the Clearwater, Florida offices of Nardo's Naturals how a Shark's influence and investment can benefit a business. Barbara Corcoran funded the four Mastronardo boys' natural skin care line and gave them not only money, but advice. She sent in her “team” to get the boys headed in the right direction and they appear to be doing quite well. Having Barbara Corcoran as an adviser is priceless, she's like the rich, benevolent grandmother who will assist a budding venture financially, but also provides the swift kick in the backside when it's needed. As Kyle told me, “we would have been successful eventually, but Barbara accelerated the process.”
Just appearing on Shark Tank is enough to kick-start a business. The Original Shrimp Burger did NOT get funded, but less than a year after Chef Big Shake's segment aired, he was doing $5 million in sales! Mark Cuban almost funded this business and has been kicking himself ever since. Shawn “Chef Big Shake” Davis told me appearing on the show changed his business and his life. In an interview with Shawn, he told me, “when they (buyers) ask you what you are doing for marketing and you say ‘I was on Shark Tank,’ it’s better than saying you’re going to spend $100,000 on marketing. I’d rather have the exposure than the money.” There are numerous examples of businesses that did not get funded that got investors, exposure, and sales as a direct result of appearing on Shark Tank.
6. Last but not least, Shark Tank is that rare combination of good entertainment with a little education thrown in. Stand up paddle board merchant Stephan Aarstol called the Shark Tank a “master's level business class in negotiation.” While the viewer only gets a small glimpse of the actual negotiations, what we do see sparks conversations about negotiating and business. I often watch with my wife and kids and animated discussions follow each entrepreneurs' pitch. I have heard from thousands of people that they watch with their families. I personally believe this sort of interaction and discussion is good for our youth (see reason 2). Getting kids to go “beyond their video games” and start thinking about entrepreneurship is what will help make the next generation of small business owners successful. I'd like to think the example set by Donny McCall and Invs-A-Rack who vowed to keep his manufacturing in the USA might inspire entrepreneurs to rejuvenate the dilapidated manufacturing sector in this country. Any educational endeavor starts with an interest in the topic, and the Shark Tank has created that buzz for young and old alike. Perhaps some wide-eyed youngster watching some Friday night will be the next innovator, entrepreneur, or even the next Shark.
While Shark Tank may be “just a TV show,” it does represent the entrepreneurial spirit ingrained in every American. The show's continued success and growing fan base certainly speaks to a nation craving the American Dream. It is easy to get caught up in the economic malaise that has swept through our nation in recent years. Looking to politicians and big business for answers won't cure what ills us. It is, and has always been, American small businesses that has driven our economy and provided the most job growth throughout our history. Whether we, as a country, have forgotten that or we have been too distracted by larger issues to take action, ANY vehicle for re-kindling the entrepreneurial spark that has lit the fires of American industry for centuries should be applauded and welcomed. Even if it's just a TV show.